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FIR Against Journalist Barkha Dutt’s Report an Example of Muzzling of Journalism, Says DigiPub

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Barkha Dutt moderating a discussion in Delhi, by Ramesh lalwani, CC BY-SA 4.0.

DigiPub News India Foundation on Monday condemned the First Information Report (FIR) filed against senior journalist Barkha Dutt’s digital news portal, Mojo Story, for allegedly spreading “fake” news while reporting on the poisoning of three Dalit minor girls in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh

DigiPub called it an “example of muzzling of journalism”. It is an association comprising several news organisations that intend to “help ensure the creation of a healthy and robust news ecosystem for the digital age.” However, Mojo Story is not a part of this association.

The Unnao Police on Sunday registered cases against several Twitter handles for spreading “false information” of the girls being raped and that the police wanting an early cremation against the family’s will. The FIR filed under Section 153 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and 66 of the Information Technology Act named Mojo Story, NilimDutta, Bhim Sena Chief Chandra Shekhar Azad, Jagran Live, Azad Samaj Party spokesperson Suraj Kumar Bauddh, Rahul Kumar Diwakar, among others.

On February 17, three minor Dalit sisters went to fetch cattle food in the evening and were later found in the field unconscious. While two of them were declared dead when taken to the hospital, the third is undergoing treatment at a hospital in Kanpur. The police arrested two persons who had allegedly poisoned the three girls as a result of a rejected proposal.

According to Dutt’s Mojo Story, while the police claimed that the cremation took place according to the family’s wish, a relative of the deceased said that the police wanted an early cremation.

Dutt called the FIR “a blatant harassment and intimidation”.

“We have reported all dimensions of the tragedy, the family’s anxieties and allegations as well as the police response at every step. And if this case is pursued, we will confidently defend our journalistic rights and freedom in court,” she tweeted.

DigiPub on Monday issued a statement and wrote that the allegations in the FIR were “outright false” and that it was a “clear and deliberate attempt at muzzling the journalists and keeping them from doing their job”. It also mentioned that Mojo Story was refused a copy of the FIR by the Unnao Police.

DigiPub stated that Mojo Story was “penalised for reporting what the families of the Dalit girls told their reporter” and that the platform also called out the “police for clubbing with politicians who had suggested falsely that the girls had been raped.”

Mojo Story has denied reporting anything regarding the latter.

The statement pointed out that this was not the first time that attempts were made to restrict journalists from reporting on ground from Uttar Pradesh, which the Centre should “take a note” of.

The Uttar Pradesh Police had earlier arrested Kerala-based journalist Siddique Kappan while he on his way to report the 2020 Hathras gang-rape case, where a Dalit girl was allegedly gang-raped and murdered. The victim was cremated in the middle of the night against the family’s will. Kappan was arrested under Section 17 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Expressing solidarity with the journalists named in the FIR and challenging the “bullying without compromise”, DigiPub mentioned in the statement that “this is no way for a responsible and a mature democracy to function”.

“Intimidating the press using enforcement agencies and lodging FIRs, often in ways that push the boundaries of legality needs to stop,” the statement said.

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